Eskom confirms that load shedding has been halted after
being in place – at varying stages – since early December 2019.

South Africans can finally breathe a brief a slight sigh of
relief, following weeks of electrical disruptions resulting directly from the
national power supplier’s dismal operational incapacity. While the country was
warned of Eskom’s rickety summer power plan as early as September, the reality
of protracted powerlessness proved more daunting and damaging than could’ve
been imagined.

No load shedding from 14 to 16 December 2019

On Friday night, Eskom released a statement concerning the decrease in demand over the long weekend, confirming that it would terminate load shedding between 14 and 16 December. Eskom said:

“The demand for electricity is expected to reduce significantly during the long weekend. In addition, as we continue to reduce unplanned breakdowns, load shedding is not expected from 14 to 16 December 2019.”

The cost of Eskom’s
load shedding

Earlier this week, things took a turn for the worse when torrential downpours led to localised flooding at coal mines and power stations, with the ill-fated Medupi Power Plant grinding to a halt. On Monday 9 December, Eskom was forced to wade into the unknown and implement Stage 6 load shedding – the announcement of which sent South African into a tailspin.

Luckily, Stage 6 load shedding, which was intended to rotationally
cut 6000MW from the grid – 18 times over a four-day period for four hours at a
time, or 18 times over an eight-day period for two hours – was withdrawn almost
as quickly as it was implemented. Still, the damage had already been done.

Facing a barrage of criticism for his absence in a time of need, President Cyril Ramaphosa was forced to cut short his state visit to Egypt and return home for “crisis talks” with Eskom on Wednesday 11 December. After a closed-door meeting with Eskom executives, including acting boss Jabu Mabuza and Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan, Ramaphosa addressed the media and apologised to South Africans for the disruptions and understandable frustrations.

Ramaphosa noted that, in addition to bad weather and
unplanned breakdowns, elements of sabotage were responsible for the country’s
recent energy crisis. The president urged Eskom executives to work together
with the South African Police Service (SAPS) to root out dishonourable acts
within the utility.

While Eskom has managed to revive and stabilise its operational capacity, just days before Ramaphosa’s stern deadline of 17 December, the utility’s incompetence is estimated to have cost the South African economy in excess of R30-billion. This economic blow comes at the worst possible time for South Africa, following in the wake of sluggish financial growth and a rapidly rising unemployment rate.

Problems on the horizon

And while, naturally, South Africans will be inclined to
celebrate the end of powerlessness, Eskom has warned of further load shedding
should the system become constrained, urging citizens to decrease their electricity
usage and remain prepared for rotational cuts.

Although Ramaphosa has promised to keep the lights burning until 13 January, the new year promises to be a turbulent one for the flailing power utility. While the appointment of new CEO, Andre de Ruyter, has been welcomed by Eskom and the ruling African National Congress (ANC), trade unions have vowed to embark on crippling protests to oppose, what they deem to be, steps towards the privatisation of state-owned enterprises (SEOs).

Both the National Union of Metal Workers South Africa (Numsa) and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) are intending to mobilise 50 000 workers in January as part of industrial action which will further hamper the operational mandate of SEOs.

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Presh JM Reporter

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